Last time we checked in with Haddonfield Memorial High School’s Drama Club, the group had finished a triumphal, five-performance run of its March spring musical, “Hello, Dolly!”
This fall, the nature of theater will be redefined, as the inaugural production for the 2020-’21 school year will be an online presentation of Orson Welles’ Halloween classic, “War of the Worlds.”
Originally broadcast on Oct. 30, 1938 as one episode of the American drama anthology series “The Mercury Theater on the Air,” the one-hour program was written for radio by Howard Koch, and adapted from H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel.
The episode concerns a UFO sighting and subsequent Martian invasion in tiny Grovers Mill, New Jersey, and is told as a developing news story. Many radio listeners who tuned in late to the original broadcast missed its introduction and assumed Earth was actually under attack, causing a nationwide panic.
The Haddonfield production will take viewers inside the studio as the 1938 show is broadcast, with a nod to the culture of “fake news.” Director Matt DiDonato cited a COVID-dominated world as impetus for choosing Welles’ work.
“The main reason was the pandemic,” he noted. “We didn’t know what school was going to look like, whether we’d be allowed at school at all, go completely virtual or do a hybrid system. So a radio play was devised as a way to keep the kids moving and interested. It’s not technically theater, but it’s theater related.”
Plans to produce a finished product will be similar to the drama club’s “Places! At Home” evening of livestreamed show tunes, undertaken this past June. DiDonato will shoot the actors on film while they are on stage at the high school, to bring out the full range of performance. Once filming is complete, the editing process will, presumably, birth a seamless show.
Unlike “Places,” viewership of “War” will not be entirely free to the public on the drama club’s YouTube channel. There’s a little bit more effort involved for patrons to proceed.
“Because it’s a licensed show, and because the work is copyrighted, you have to request streaming rights, Normally, recording a play like this would not be allowed,” DiDonato explained. “The writers’ estate has a proprietary agreement with certain streaming services.”
Viewers will instead have to go to ShowShare’s website at (https://livestream.broadwayondemand.com/) to watch the Bulldawgs’ indulgence in theater of the mind.
“We want it to be free to the community, but ShowShare charges a service fee. So, the HEA (Haddonfield Educational Trust) agreed to pay for the service fee for 250 streaming codes,” DiDonato continued. “On our site, we’re going to have a Google form, where people can register to watch. In some ways. It’s like getting tickets, but not really.”
Once viewers sign up, there will be a free access code provided on the club’s website. With the code, anyone should be able to log onto the site and access the show at any time. An account on ShowShare’s site has to be created first, but after that, the show can be watched through the account from Oct. 29 to 31.
DiDonato said all pertinent information should be available on the drama club website shortly.
In past years and under normal circumstances, everyone involved in either the fall play or spring musical combines to accomplish great things, gaining a sense of satisfaction and boost of confidence when the community responds positively. But this year, with live audiences simply not an option, there’s a challenge for the actors to keep motivated and give their best.
“There’s definitely a different level of energy,” DiDonato mused. “We started filming today. I have no background in film and I do theater because I love live theater. It is definitely a challenge to wrap your head around.”
“For me as the director, I don’t know what to expect: How is it different pulling a performance from someone who relies on response from the audience?” he added.
“I’m happy with how everything is going, and I’m thrilled the kids have done such great work so far.”
For all information on the Drama Club, its past shows, and how to sign up and to view the fall 2020 production, visit: hmhsdrama.com.